Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Complaints from the Adopted

In a recent obit, I included the fact that among the deceased's survivors were three adopted sons. I have gotten two complaints now from people who think I'm trying to stigmatize them.

It's punishment for good intentions. My intent was to show that the decedent, who ran a huge conservative philanthropy and was thereby much vilified, actually had a compassionate side. (Of course I don't know that for certain, I can't crawl around in his brain, and he could have adopted them for nefarious reasons. But by including the adoptions as a bare fact, the reader has the raw material to draw the conclusion for himself that the man was compassionate.)

Anybody else hear of this? I usually don't include the fact of adoption in a survivors list, though I have a few times at the family's request. Nobody ever complained before.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Dead Doughboy

obituary forum In memoriam - Pillsbury Doughboy - He's Gone IN Remembrance Please join me in remembering a great icon of the entertainmentcommunity here in America.The Pillsbury Doughboy died yesterday of a yeast infection and trauma complications from repeated pokes in the belly. He was 71. Doughboy wasburied in a lightly greased coffin. Dozens of celebrities turned out topay their respects, including Mrs. Butterworth, Hungry Jack, theCalifornia Raisins, Betty Crocker, the Hostess Twinkies, and CaptainCrunch. The grave site was piled high with flours.Aunt Jemima delivered the eulogy and lovingly described Doughboy as aman who never knew how much he was kneaded. Doughboy rose quickly inshow business, but his later life was filled with turnovers. He was notconsidered a very smart cookie, wasting much of his dough on half-bakedschemes. Despite being a little flaky at times he was a crusty old manand was considered a roll model for millions.Doughboy is survived by his wife Play Dough, two children, John Doughand Jane Dough, plus they had one in the oven. He is also survived byhis elderly father, Pop Tart.The funeral was held at 3:50 for about 20 minutes.

Dead? Or alive?

Kay Powell, obits editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, shares this confirmation-of-death story that a funeral director told her about his uncle:

Per the funeral director: My uncle was recently hospitalized in very serious condition and not expected to live. He recoverd to some degree and went home to recuperate.

Social security called his wife Tuesday morning to inform her that she needed to reimburse the agency for the check sent him the first of this month. Somewhat puzzled, she inquired "Why".

They had been advised of his death on _____ of January. That came as somewhat of a surprise to her, she reported, since he was sitting in the chair next to her and was apparently very much alive and didn't smell bad at all.

She now has to take him to their office to prove that he is, indeed, alive and kicking.

He went to his doctor's appointment yesterday. His appointment had been cancelled due to his death and his Medicare benefits were frozen.

Oh, and his retirement pension was also terminated.

Fortunately, he is one of those few who revel in the folly of life in today's world. He said he always wanted to slip peacefully away some day when that time comes. From now on he says he will check with SS each morning before shaving in case he died during the night and nobody got the memo out to him.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

First Rule of Obit Writing, Part II

Speaking of which, I read a short story called "Mortals" by Tobias Wolff about a newspaper obit writer who fails to confirm an obit with the family or the funeral home. The result is about what you might expect, except with a twist. I found it in a book of Wolff's short stories at the library.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Cause of death as public health warning

I recently wrote a feature obit for a 91-year-old man, who happened to die from C. diff. Forgive my lack of medical expertise in explaining this, but apparently C. diff is synonymous with killing a patient with antibiotic therapy. It ranks high on the list of the potentially fatal side effects of being in a hospital.

I received an email from a reader, who knew the deceased. He suggested that I should have written about how this man died. By doing that, I would have enlightened readers to this terrible health risk, the emailer said. He believed it was my duty as a journalist to warn the public.

In the obits I write, I prefer to celebrate the person's life. I don't usually make a big deal about the way people die, unless it enhances the stories of their lives or gives the circumstances of death for a person, who was too young to die.

I'm big on irony - like the young mountain climber, who died of head injuries after falling down the cellar steps.

And Steve Courson, the former super-strong Pittsburgh Steeler lineman who became a poster boy for steroid abuse around 1990. I always thought steroid-inflicted heart problems would kill him. Instead, it was a tree. The tree fell on Steve while he was trying to save his dog from getting crushed by it.

It's easy to warn folks about the dangers posed by drugs. We can say that a person died from a heart condition caused by steroid abuse. We can write that a fatal heart attack was brought on by heroin addiction or that someone accidentally overdosed on prescription medicine.

But if I had said that this guy died of C. diff, then I'd have to explain what C. diff is. In this particular case, the explanation would have interrupted the flow of the story. Also, I had a limited amount of space in which to cram the man's 91 years of life. I didn't want to leave out interesting aspects of his life to belabor his agonizing death.

Give me some feedback. How do you handle this sort of thing? Do you have any stories to share regarding this?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Fabulous Facts

One reason the Telegraph is so good. Where else do you find facts like the one in the last sentence of the paragraph in Freddie Laker's obit describing antitrust action involving Laker Airlines?: In 1983 the liquidators Touche Ross began an anti-trust action in America, claiming a billion dollars from 10 major airlines. The allegations went beyond predatory pricing; British Airways, Pan Am, TWA and Lufthansa were said to have met to plot Laker's downfall. In particular, several airlines had threatened the manufacturer McDonnell Douglas that they would buy elsewhere if it rescheduled Laker's debt. The Justice Department found the evidence in a school project by the daughter of a McDonnell Douglas director.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Radio days

As promised, here's the MP3 of the BBC Radio 4 documentary The Obituary Writers, featuring a few familiar voices.

Download it here (26.5MB file)

It's rather good - and also mentions that the Radio 4 is starting its own weekly audio obit show, Last Word. It starts on Friday. Anyone interested in that?

Before his time

"I'm curious how a funeral looks from the other side," Halasz told BBC World Service's Outlook programme. "I want to take a look at my friends and listen to the eulogies, and the final farewell."

I wonder if any newspapers will get into the spirit, and print the obituary early?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


It never ends. Our own seƱor McKie may have been keeping it quiet, but there's a half hour featuring him and other luminaries over on BBC Radio 4 at 1500 GMT on Thursday, on a special programme called "The Obit Writers".

I'll try to grab a copy, and pass it around. Media whores, the lot of you...